Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Sci fi and national security

Starbuck, who derives his name from fiction, has a good piece in Small Wars Journal along with Adam Elkus about “speculative fiction” (such a tender euphemism) and national security. Their bottom line: I think this is right — sci fi is really always about the present, which is one of its limiting factors as literature. ...

578975_091019_ricksscifi2.jpg
578975_091019_ricksscifi2.jpg

Starbuck, who derives his name from fiction, has a good piece in Small Wars Journal along with Adam Elkus about "speculative fiction" (such a tender euphemism) and national security. Their bottom line: I think this is right -- sci fi is really always about the present, which is one of its limiting factors as literature.

I liked their review of the issue, but came away wanting to read more about the related issue of fiction that doesn't appear to be about a given war, or perhaps any war at all, because it is disguised. One obvious example is one they mention, Starship Troopers, which I think is not really about outer space but really about World War II in the Pacific, with the inhuman enemy crawling out of holes in the ground. Even more distant from the war it is about, I think, is Doctor Dolittle, which I think is about World War I. If I recall correctly, it began as letters written home then by Hugh Lofting, who served with the Irish Guards. In a world of trench warfare where men lived like animals, in holes in the ground, Lofting effectively lived in a world of talking animals.  

Starbuck, who derives his name from fiction, has a good piece in Small Wars Journal along with Adam Elkus about “speculative fiction” (such a tender euphemism) and national security. Their bottom line: I think this is right — sci fi is really always about the present, which is one of its limiting factors as literature.

I liked their review of the issue, but came away wanting to read more about the related issue of fiction that doesn’t appear to be about a given war, or perhaps any war at all, because it is disguised. One obvious example is one they mention, Starship Troopers, which I think is not really about outer space but really about World War II in the Pacific, with the inhuman enemy crawling out of holes in the ground. Even more distant from the war it is about, I think, is Doctor Dolittle, which I think is about World War I. If I recall correctly, it began as letters written home then by Hugh Lofting, who served with the Irish Guards. In a world of trench warfare where men lived like animals, in holes in the ground, Lofting effectively lived in a world of talking animals.  

I’d be interested in other examples of books that really are about war, or about a certain war, that don’t appear to be so. I think these are in some ways the most profound books about humans hunting and killing each other.

Photo via Flickr user otisarchives2

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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